As a consultant, I hear it from B2B clients all the time. They feel like their company isn’t getting enough traction with media, and they’re worried it will impact the sales pipeline. They might be putting out new products, hitting quarterly earnings goals, and yet they just aren’t making headlines. Press releases aren’t generating coverage. Nobody seems to love them.
If you’re having similar thoughts, I’ve got news for you. In most industries, the days of schilling press releases in the hopes of garnering meaningful coverage of your company – and especially your products – are over. Dead. Buried and forgotten. Let’s move on.
And even if you do get coverage, it’s unlikely to be impactful enough to nudge customers into a buying decision.
Today, to differentiate from competitors, brands need to do more than demonstrate why their products and solutions are different. Buyers want a relationship with a company, and that starts with demonstrating that your people are different – through thought leadership.
The Evolving Sales Model and the Case for Thought Leadership
A good thought leadership program is about more than just promoting products. It’s about demonstrating expertise that will help potential customers see you as a trusted and knowledgeable partner. If your brand has great products, chances are it has great people, too. People with expertise that customers would find valuable and possibly even persuasive.
Media relations efforts are often wasted trying to promote the benefits of a specific product without taking into consideration the realities of the evolving buying process.
The traditional sales model has given way to a new normal where sales cycle are longer, conversion rates are lower, forecasts are erratic and unreliable and margins are compressed.
If you’re responsible for sales at your company you’re probably depressed right about now. Don’t be. There’s significant opportunity if you know where to look for it.
Here are three ways that a good thought leadership program can unlock potential sales:
1. Thought leadership puts your company on the short list.
The decision making model for most companies doesn’t start in the C-suite – it starts with the recommenders that those decision makers trust. Research from Corporate Executive Board indicates that recommenders will make 57 percent of the sales decision before your sales force is even involved. Recommenders ultimately control which suppliers land in front of the decider, and way before you even get your foot in the door they’ve already been researching their purchase decision. Did that research turn up anything interesting about you?
Recommenders put their own credibility on the line with their boss when they make recommendations. Your thought leadership program will build confidence in your brand so that recommenders feel confident in putting your name on the short list.
2. Thought leadership builds specific, targeted credibility.
A thought leadership program should be tailored to your industry and should emphasize the problems or business challenges your products and solutions solve. By building credibility on the specific topics that matter most to your niche, you move from a position of selling something to one of adding value for your customer.
The good news is, the biggest competitors in most industries aren’t practicing thought leadership. Or at least, not well.
Maybe they’ve grown complacent from their success, or they just don’t see the value when they’re already on top. More likely, their success came before the sales model started to evolve, so they haven’t recognized the threat that a good challenger brand can pose when it gets transparent and starts to really connect with customers.
3. Paired with earned media, thought leadership will help seal the deal with the decider.
Once you’ve positioned yourself with recommenders, gotten on the short list and demonstrated niche expertise that adds value, how do you influence the decision when your name is finally presented to the C-suite decider?
To maximize your chances, the decider must already be familiar with your brand through strategically placed thought leadership paired with paid advertising in locations that matter to him or her. If the recommenders have a short list and you are the one unknown entity, it’s an uphill battle. But if you make sure the decider has seen your brand in the publications and websites he or she frequents, it levels the playing field.
Thought Leadership – A Challenger Brand’s Biggest Opportunity
The biggest brands have left plenty of room for challenger brands to take market share by demonstrating significant expertise through thought leadership. And being the challenger brand has its advantages. You are likely more nimble with less to lose than your competitors. You can take more chances, put yourself out there more and be more transparent with your point of view than bloated companies with strict controls and tight legal review over every external communication.
Want to disrupt the status quo and differentiate yourself from larger competitors? It starts with employing thought leadership to get recommenders to put you on the short list.